Politics and Purity, Oil and Water

Just some random thoughts on the current situation in the Bush administration. The American Ayatollahs and Imams, as well as the poison tongues of the bitch, blame and bellyache radio talk shows are really flapping and crowing tonight. Poor Harriet was sacrificed for their questionable agenda. I don't think the lady was up to the standard we should have for the court, but she might also have done exceedingly well. It is dangerous for our nation to have this much power vested in right wing religious zealots.  Rush Limbaugh and his wannabees will be with us for as long the need exists to blame and complain. We have a sizable population with those needs, so allow them to keep their small minds occupied.  It's too bad we can't capture all the hot air they blow. We could probably turn it into useful energy.
 
Right now, the ascendancy of the Ayatollahs is providing the Republicans with power, but I think in the long run they will end up being the undoing of the party. Most of us don't want to be as good as they say they want us to be, and very few of us appreciate someone else making judgment calls on our morality. As long as they have a common enemy in the Democrats, they will have power, but many Republicans will tire of them. We may yet have that third party we so obviously need. Cotton Mather had his day in the sun, but his sun set a long time ago. I doubt that Democrats are the only ones who have problems associated with hormones, and if that's true, there is bound to be a difference of opinion about abortion rights, at least among the women in the party.  I think the difference is there now, but it just hasn't risen to the surface.
 
It must be difficult for the Ayatollahs and their lemmings to justify the lying and outing that Libby seems guilty of.  Karl Rove and Dick Cheney still serve a purpose for them, but they must see the contradictions in their professions of loyalty and patriotism and the outing of a CIA agent for political purposes. They thought it was bad enough to demand and get impeachment when Clinton lied about a sexual affair. Senator Hutchinson of Texas stuttered and stammered her way through the answer to a question about perjury on Meet the Press, then a day or two later spent another stammering session on TV trying to say what she meant to say — as opposed to what she did say.  Her dilemma is just the tip of the iceberg. Do you see a need for the Democrats to start pushing a positive agenda? I do.
 
Frist, DeLay, Rove, Libby, Cheney, and probably others, have serious problems.  It must be awfully lonely for poor Georgie right now.  He must be glad to have Harriet back in the White House to tell him how brilliant he is, and to sing him to sleep with "How Great Thou Art."

Caught in the Middle

The credit card economy of the current administration is finally catching up with it. Even the Republicans have become aware that far more is going out than is coming in. Those among them who are still fiscal conservatives have stopped worrying for the moment about Roe vs. Wade and are making noises about the cost of war and the cost of those natural disasters visited upon us. These and the cost of other things, such as the rising cost of prescription drug benefits, a plan designed for us by the pharma­ceutical companies, are beginning to add up. You may remember what Everett Dirksen said many years ago, "A billion here, a billion there — pretty soon it adds up to real money." As a result, the fiscal conservatives in Congress are looking for ways to cut the deficit, and you might know where they would start. When cutting benefits the first rule is to take from those with the least clout, in this case, the poor among us.
 
The president's tax advisory commission has come up with some recommendations for tax code simplification. The first change would be to reduce the long standing mortgage interest credit, the primary deduction of the middle class. They would also disallow credit for interest paid on home equity loans, a booming market in recent months. Again, a credit used mostly by the middle class. They would reduce the deduction allowed for charitable giving, to the probable detriment of churches and charitable organizations. Credit for health insurance premiums would be reduced, and health benefits paid by employers would be counted as taxable employee income. Two plans are proposed for investment income, and, as one might expect, each of them helps the large investor.
 
This tax code revision, if passed by Congress, would further shift the burden of taxes from the top earners to the middle ones. If you didn't notice, the tax bills passed in 2001 and 2002 shifted the tax load in two ways: who pays and to whom. The cost of delivering services may not change in itself, but when the pot's empty, those who pay for them do. In addition to the changes brought about by government, some of the tax supports that once provided services have been limited by initiatives. The missing payments by government have simply been replaced by service charges.
 
Of course, no mention has been made of rescinding earlier tax cuts. The inheritance tax is off the table, though it affects only a tiny minority of our citizenry. There's a proposal to cut the top rate again, benefiting those most able to pay. The net result of these proposals is to shift the tax burden ever downward, squeezing the folks in the middle. You'd think even the most loyal of lemmings would see that this administration does not represent them in any way that counts.
 
It's time for Democrats to do something more, besides pointing out the shortsighted, short term profit mentality of the president and his followers in Washington. It's time they came up with concrete proposals. Right now, it reminds me of the response to Bill Clinton during his administration. If he had anything to do with it, it was a bad idea. It's time not merely to oppose, but to articulate the differences between the parties and to offer alternatives. Opposing the need for tax increases helped Reagan sweep Mondale aside in 1984. But, his successor had to face reality, and that reality was partly responsible for the Republican defeat in 1992. Some things have to be dealt with honestly. What the commission is proposing is a tax increase by a different name. When you take away the deductions, proposed in the name of simplification, and the net tax you pay goes up, that is a tax increase. What the Democrats need to answer is who should be paying it.
 
We watch General Motors struggle with the possibility of bankruptcy. We watch the shifting of health costs from company to workers, together with forced pay reductions and the loss of benefits. We see reduced opportunity, and diminished expectations. Is it finally time, then, that we acknowledge the growing truth that the middle class can no longer pay what it owes, and has little or no way to pay more? It's time for Democrats and Republicans alike to realize not only the human costs of war, but the financial costs as well. The current administration has not asked anyone — military families excepted — to make sacrifices for the war in Iraq. Short term sacrifices, anyway. But the lives it ruins are as real as the billions it costs to pursue this war, and we cannot continue to pay for it by stealing from the Social Security surplus, by continuing to borrow from Japan and China, as we are now doing, to pay current expenses, or by squeezing the middle class. 
 
Anyone with a thought of running for the legislature in 2006, or the presidency in 2008, needs to tell us not only what they support, but how they would pay for anything they propose. Opposing W's proposals is one thing. Having ideas and answers is another.

Using God

The most recent misuse of “religion” has been as a code word to reassure the lemmings that Harriet will overturn Roe versus Wade.  Pat Robertson, who fancies himself a kingmaker, has threatened any republican senator who votes against her with defeat at the next election. The Hammer is not the only religious nut willing to use muscle. We can only hope that once Harriet meets a few other men she will revise her opinion of W's brilliance and perhaps even listen to reason.
 
The president this week engaged ten soldiers serving in Iraq in a transparent, scripted dialogue.  Just like his town meetings, now copied by our governor, the participating soldiers were by invitation only. They were given the topics the president would cover and the answers they were expected to give in response. This apparently demonstrates one of the democratic ideals we are fighting to give the Iraqis: freedom of expression. Patriotism, in case you haven't figured it out, is what's playing at this theater of the absurd.
 
When I see the neo-cons praying on street corners, I am reminded of a cameo appearance by Eddie Foy, Jr. in a 1940s musical.  He was playing his father, Eddie Foy, who was a well-known entertainer in vaudeville.  The only people left who remember vaudeville firsthand are probably lingering in rest homes, but a few of us, encamped on the banks of the River Styx, remember the early days of radio and the stage entertainers who found their way into that new medium: Burns and Allen, W. C. Fields, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Edgar Bergen... But I digress. Eddie Foy, Jr. did one of his father's song and dance routines about this fellow who spent the week cheating everyone and pocketing the money, ending with the refrain, “Ah, but he goes to church on Sunday, so they say that he's and honest man.” 
 
I am not anti-religion — I have my own set of beliefs — but I am opposed to the current usurpation of religion by the right wing of the republican party. They have made much of the supposed morality of their party and of this particular president. They find it impossible to believe, apparently, that one of the strongest of human drives could influence a president to the point where he'd say yes to an offer few other men would refuse. Even if they could understand that, they still wouldn't understand him lying about it to save his marriage. Their version of morality includes three basic things: They are anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and anti-sex in the White House. They appear to be in favor of raping the environment, robbing the middle class for the benefit of the wealthiest among us, fighting unnecessary wars, and savaging anyone who disagrees with them. It makes you wonder what books of the Bible they are reading. Their hatred of Bill Clinton knows no bounds, which also seems to be against the teaching of Jesus, the one they supposedly follow.
 
Since most of the followers of the religious right are members of the fading middle class, give or take a step, they are the ones paying for the tax cuts, sending their children to fight the wars, suffering from dirty air and water, and losing their stomach lining in the hatred of another human being. It is difficult to find the benefits they think they have received from electing this president. Few of them can do more than gloat over a political victory, only a very few can reap any of the spoils. Is masochism a religion?

On the Other Hand

The disasters just keep piling up.  Now it is an earthquake in Pakistan and points east.  It is dreadful.  After looking at the destruction to unreinforced buildings, I don't think we should decry the codes designed to keep that from happening here.  Living on fault lines as we do in California, we need all the help architects can give us. 
 
Our national response to the cries for help was limited, but provided quickly. It may be partly the lessons of Katrina, but more likely the location of the helicopters had something to do with it. It's a lot shorter trip from Iraq to Pakistan than from Iraq to New Orleans. You have to go where the copters are.
 
These disasters of war, wind, water and soil are terrible, but the death count remains in the thousands, not millions.  Of course if you happen to be one of them, you are just as dead as if you had more company. Avian flu, on the other hand, promises to kill in the millions, perhaps hundreds of millions. The subject of quarantine has been raised and some decisions will have to be made to keep infections limited. The 1918 epidemic killed millions in Europe and the United States, including a young uncle of mine, and this one will likely be just as hard to contain. Tidal waves can be seen afar off, and hurricanes can be tracked for days.  Earthquakes are more difficult to predict, but  they are of a dimension we can understand. The tiny bugs that carry the flu are harder to detect.  They fly below our radar.
 
In earlier times we would have considered these disasters God's punishment for some of our many sins, but today we will have to settle for Intelligent Design.  I'm not sure how this works, but I expect there will be a sermon or two along this line. Come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if pornography was the culprit. Some of the churches are already working on that subject as I write. I’m guessing it might be an interesting topic to research. 
 
Somehow, I don't think punishment has anything to do with it. The development of the virus, or whatever it is, is part of the natural order of things, but its spread is going to be largely the result of our scientific advancement.  People like me live longer, fewer babies die and the population explodes.  We have planes that carry people and their bugs much faster and farther than the wind could alone, and so our population is thinned, if only for a while. I believe Thomas Malthus had something to say on that subject. Perhaps if enough of us go, however, whether by old age, disaster, or flu, we will have sufficient petroleum for those who remain, and won’t have to give up our SUVs. That should make our highways safer.
 

The Times They Are A-Changin

When I was growing up in the 1930s I was one of the few Republicans in the San Joaquin Valley in California. It was the time of the Dust Bowl when many people were on welfare or working for the WPA or another of the Federal programs designed to help people eat and get some good work done in the process. We were somewhat more fortunate than most, though not really aware of it since our lifestyle was basically the same as everyone we knew.
 
My mother's parents were German immigrants and she and her siblings were probably Republican because of Wilson's deliberate efforts to alienate them, combined with the Republicans' efforts to recruit them during the first World War. I always thought my dad's family might have been carpetbaggers since they came to California from Tennessee and were strong Republicans. That was the time when the Solid South referred to a Democratic bloc.
 
At any rate, it took real courage, or ignorance, to admit to our leanings during the elections of the thirties and early forties. There was never any physical danger, but most kids my age couldn't imagine being a Republican. My dad thought FDR was the worst thing that ever happened to this country, and his favorite economic slogan was "You can't borrow yourself rich." He also believed in paying his bills. So, when he died he left my Mother debt-free and with money in the bank. Today the San Joaquin Valley, like the solid south, has become a Republican bastion in a liberal state.
 
With the advent of Ronald Reagan and his tax cuts and increased spending, Republicans gained responsibility for the largest increase in the national debt of any administration in our history — until the present one. It became less clear what "conservative" meant. Reagan renamed Hoover's trickle down economics supply side and was as unbothered by facts as the current president. He was, however, able to sell his ideas to a large number of voters.  Now that we have repeated the tax cut folly instead of using the income to pay bills, we find ourselves in the process of leaving the largest debt in history for our children and grandchildren to pay.
 
It is more than a little confusing since the parties have exchanged some of their beliefs over the years. The crumbs from the table economics of George W bear a strong resemblance to the supply side or trickle down theories of the past, and the tax policies certainly favor the same sector of our society, but the commitment to sound fiscal management has definitely changed parties. Conservative and conversation have the same root word, but now mean very different things. The century between Theodore Roosevelt and George W. Bush has seen the efforts to conserve what nature gave us traded for a short term profit. There may well be a successful third political party in our future.
 
While on the topic of changing sides, with the nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, the irony and hypocrisy of politicians should be clear. The far right is now demanding answers to the same questions that the far left demanded just a few days ago. They are asking the same questions, but are  looking for far different answers. Confusing, isn't it. Wouldn't it be funny if the Democrats moved to limit debate and demanded a straight up or down vote? Could happen.
 

Karen the Interpreter

Karen Hughes has been very effective in interpreting W's scrambled syntax and presenting the message to voters and doubters that he, no doubt, wished he'd delivered.  She has done an admirable job of spinning his every action so that it seems admirable and unselfish.  I've often wondered what someone as bright as she obviously is sees in him, but there is no accounting for taste.  Of course, if you're impressed by the  selected crowds he plays for, you may think he is a rock star. 
 
She has recently been given the task of spinning him full-time.  If I understand the assignment, it is to improve his image with the worldwide audience. I'd say the task is monumental if she never goes farther from home than Europe. When your policies are intent on making the rich richer and ignoring the points of view of any but your cronies, they make for a tough sell. Karen is very good at what she does and just might make believers of a few Germans and may be able to bring some of the doubters in England back in the fold, but Muslim countries are a harder sell, as she has learned.
 
Our sins of commission and omission during the two Bush presidencies have traveled ahead of her. We encouraged the Shiites to rebel against Saddam Hussein and then left them swinging in the breeze. We encouraged Muslim women to assert themselves and when they did, they too were left to suffer the consequences. This was particularly true with our staunchest ally in the region, Saudi Arabia. It is one country in which the Bush name should carry some weight. Oh, sorry, I forgot about their oil.
 
At any rate poor Karen was left to her own devices in both Saudi Arabia and Turkey and found worse than a cold reception. She learned, quickly, that what sells in the Midwest does not sell in the Middle East. Back to the drawing board.

Poor Little Me

It has been amusing to watch Tom DeLay try to paint himself as a martyr to the cause.  The cause, I suppose, is to bring religion into every decision made by our government. It is also to make sure that only Republicans get money from special interests and only Republicans get elected to office. Some of these goals could apply to any political party, but Tom has taken such obvious delight in using muscle on donors and his lemmings in Congress alike, that the nickname he loves was given him, "The Hammer." I'm sure this is especially rewarding to a person of his small stature. 
 
Underhanded dealings and a take no prisoners attitude accompanied by a deep layer of sanctimony are useful for one in his position, however, they do not make him a sympathetic character.  On the contrary, I suspect that many of his "followers" are secretly pleased to see some of the wind taken out of his balloon. They may be obligated to him or afraid of him, but neither has ever been a recipe for winning friends.  On the contrary, they are more often than not, sources of resentment. The public face of the party will be one thing, but the battle for his position has already begun and shows some of the cracks in this lock-step group known as the GOP. The president's falling approval ratings also remind them that the next election is only a year and a month away. 
 
Tom accomplished what he set out to do in Texas. He cornered the market on funds and got a Republican majority elected in the Texas legislature. He got the district lines re-drawn so that they gained additional seats in Washington. His attempt to hide the money was so transparent that only someone with the arrogance of power would have done anything so obvious. It was no different than asking someone if they had five ones for a five dollar bill. They didn't even change the amount. Only someone who thought he was above the law would have been so obvious.
 
Mr. DeLay has shown his arrogance in many ways, not the least of which is in taking special trips at lobbyist's expense. This is not terribly unusual for congressmen, but when someone portrays himself as a paragon of virtue, it is harder for people to stomach, even his followers. The pesticide salesman from Houston may have reached his level of incompetence. The Peter Principle works in Washington as W reminds us daily. But remember, Tom's a martyr. 

The Truth Will Out

In this case it may be a Phlame out. Karl Rove, the Machiavellian mastermind behind the desk in the Oval Office, and his sidekick, Scooter Libby, should be facing some tough questions soon. Then the question becomes, "What will the president do?" He has already backtracked and is now saying that they do not, and have not discussed the matter because the special prosecutor has said not to. This answer was given with a straight face just this morning.
 
We may never learn the truth behind the newspaper stories, printed and unprinted.  Since Bob Novak has been left unscathed and free of jail, we must assume that he testified. Cooper and Miller have now divulged their sources and it is up to the special prosecutor and the Grand Jury to decide who the culprit is, if only one is responsible. The Gulf tragedies have dimmed the interest in this story temporarily, but it has not gone away.
 
Rove, the architect of Bush's campaigns and Libby, one of the hawks in the Pentagon, have kept relatively low profiles, but both have played key roles in the debacle in Iraq and in the makeover of our armed forces. We are now facing low recruitment levels and diminishing poll numbers for the president. They both have plenty on their plates without the duplicity charges they are likely to face. It may be that the President will be left to his own devices and will have to attack his enemies face to face, while Secretary Rumsfeld will be even lonelier at the Pentagon.
 
Karl Rove is an accomplished character assassin and Libby has interfered extensively with the military ever since this administration has been in power.  Rove is one of the main reasons it came to power. But even politicians who have been good and faithful servants have to be sacrificed to protect the name of their bosses. This isn't unusual in politics, but the reluctance Bush has shown to facing miscreants in his party probably means they will be let down easily. However, those who live by the sword...

And Justice For All

Harriet Mier is more of an unknown than Justice Souter was when he was nominated. I believe she was quoted as saying that George W. Bush is the smartest man she has ever known. Assuming the "known" wasn't a Biblical use of the term, it would appear her dealings with the opposite sex have been unduly limited. One other thing is clear, if you want a job, be the one who picks the candidates.  It held true for the vice presidency and now of the Justice nomination.
 
Other than her obvious low opinion of men, there are several hopeful signs about this nominee. She has in the past supported Democrats and has been a good daughter to her mother. On the other hand, she has supported anti-abortion groups. Given her spinsterhood, I am reminded of the Italian joke when the subject of birth control was a hot item in Italy. "He no playa da game, he no make a da rule," was the punch line for that one.
 
Perhaps the most hopeful sign is the opposition of the extreme right, the evangelicals and Pat Buchanan. The fact that they are worried and potentially opposed are heartening signs. I just hope they know something I don't know since there is little evidence as yet to use in deciding. I can only hope that she is more able than several of W's cronies we have suffered. She is a woman who has done rather impressive things in a man's world so she may be sympathetic to women and their right to have the say over their bodies. Her friendship with W is the major minus at this point.

Science, What Science?

According to a poll quoted in yesterday's Fresno Bee, 45% of our citizens believe God created humans within the last 10,000 years. I don't know what that says about their opinion of carbon dating, but I'm afraid it indicates either a great deal of ignorance of science or a rejection of the whole process. Either way it is frightening and the logical conclusions from it are even more frightening.  Given the short shrift this administration has given science in general, we are in the "Me worry?" frame of mind. If science is rejected by that high a percentage of our population, we are sure to fall behind India and China in the next few decades.
 
With the push to include Intelligent Design as part of the teaching of Biology, we may soon see the Bible used as the textbook. There is already a real push to replace the constitution with the Bible.  Now that Judge ( Ten Commandments ) Moore has announced his candidacy for the governorship of Alabama, we can expect the move to gain headway there. It seems we are in a mood to take a giant step backwards. I don't believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive, but you do have some choices to make. Inasmuch as religion involves more faith than proof, making some changes there seems the logical place to start to make the interpretations fit what we learn and are able to verify in the field of science. 
 
Religion, by its very nature, opposes change, while science, by its very nature, seeks change. It is easy to see why they are in conflict, but change is inevitable. The Middle and Dark Ages were dominated by religion and the church authorities. It would be a real shame if we allow the passionate pursuit of the next life to be our main goal in this one. If the Intelligent Design advocates turn out to be correct, they will have eternity to laugh at the scientific community. In the meantime let's keep our eyes and our options open.